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Staff Profile

Dr Joan Walton

Senior Lecturer

Joan Walton

My first degree is in Social Theory and Institutions (University of Bangor, North Wales), which allowed me to study a range of diverse subjects such as Sociology, Social Psychology, Criminology, Philosophy and Study of Religions. Following University, I travelled for a year in India and South East Asia, including working in one of Mother Theresa’s children’s homes in Calcutta. My early professional career was in social work, mainly working with children and families in residential and community settings. I then moved on to teaching on a professional social work qualifying programme, during which time I gained a Masters degree in Race and Education at Birmingham University.

In 1995 I established an independent centre for action research and education, which enabled me to be involved in a wide range of staff development and research projects in the public, private and not-for profit sectors. Initially these were mainly in education, social care and health settings, but over time I increasingly became involved in developing, delivering and assessing accredited programmes for leaders and managers in the corporate sector.

Following completion of my PhD in 2008, I had a career change, and entered the academic world, initially at Liverpool Hope University, and now at York St John University in the School of Education.


I have supervisory responsibility for four PhD students, and teach on the EdD, a taught professional doctorate. I am also Module Leader for Methods of Enquiry on the MA Education Programme (p/t)


I am interested in research which contributes to achieving a fairer and more socially just world. This has resulted in a long term engagement with action research which aims to improve social conditions, not just describe and explain them. More recently, I have become interested in autoethnography and narrative inquiry, both of which allow the researcher to be actively involved in that which she researches. As a doctoral supervisor, I support professionals who research their own practice, often working with people who are marginalised from mainstream society. They make an original contribution to knowledge by theorising their practice in ways that are of practical value to other professionals. 

I am also interested in exploring the ontological and epistemological contexts within which these approaches to research are located.  This has led to me taking an active interest in the phenomenon of consciousness, which, to quote Christian de Quincey, is ‘our deepest mystery and our most intimate reality’. At one extreme, materialist scientists say that consciousness is a by-product of the brain, emerging at a late stage of a physical evolutionary process; so that when the brain dies, consciousness disappears. At another extreme, many from a spiritual background state that there is a Universal Consciousness which is infinite and eternal. From this perspective, our human experience of consciousness is explained as each person having an individual and unique experience of the Universal Consciousness.  

In my view, researchers in western cultures have been heavily influenced by the former, materialist view of consciousness, which I argue is constraining their beliefs about what constitutes valid research. I, in collaboration with colleagues from both western and eastern cultures, are researching different ways of understanding consciousness. This also leads to a meaningful dialogue about various interpretations of science and spirituality, the relationship between them, and the significance of this discussion for the ontological and epistemological foundations of social and educational research. I draw on a wide range of disciplines, including quantum physics, biology, transpersonal psychology, and diverse spiritual traditions, to inform my research.   

I contend that this multi-disciplinary research will support a deeper and more informed critical analysis of the political and social systems that influence the life chances of each individual. This returns me full circle to my interest in action research, and other approaches to research, which aim to create knowledge about how theory and action can be integrated in ways that contribute to achieving a fairer and more socially just world.  


Walton, Joan (2017) The significance of consciousness studies and quantum physics for creating a spiritual research paradigm. Journal for the Study of Spirituality, 7 (1). pp. 21-34.

Walton, J. (2017), Action Research: A Methodology for Inquiring into Subjective Experience, Invited Keynote Speaker, Fifth International Conference ‘Science and Scientist’, Kathmandu,

Walton, J. & Mason, G. (2016) Creating a pedagogy of vocational training for young people not in education, employment or training, in Rowell, L. et al (eds) International Handbook of Action Research, Palgrave Macmillan.  

Walton, J.  (2016) The role of subjectivity: Response to Noriyuki Inoue, International Journal for Transformative Research, 2, 2: 25-44.

Walton, J. (2016)  Expanding science to include an investigation of the scientist’s subjective experience of consciousness, paper for keynote presentation at conference 'The scientist can explain science; but can science explain the scientist?'  University of Bangalore, India. 

Walton, J.  & Harrison, N.  (2015) Integrating first, second and third person research to lead the creation of a learning organisation, in Pithouse-Morgan, K (ed) Polyvocal Professional Development: Enacting dialogic professional learning through self-study, Sense Publications.

Walton, J. (2014) The role of the transpersonal in transformative research. International Journal for Transformative Research, 1, 1:25-44.  

Walton, J. (2013) Active Participation in Learning: Students Creating their Educational Experience, in Dunne, E & Owen, D. The Student Engagement Handbook: Practice in Higher Education, Emerald Publications.

Walton, J, (2013) Book Review of Carmichael, P. Networking Research, British Educational Research Journal, Vol 39: 6, 1076-1077.

Walton, J. & Desmond, S. (2012) Family Literacy Programme in South Africa, in Atkin, C., Education and Minorities, London: Continuum. 

Walton, J. (2012) Book Review of Farren, M., Whitehead, J. & Bognar, B. (eds) Action Research in the Educational Workplace, British Educational Research Journal. Vol 38, No. 1, pp 178-180.

Walton, J.  (2011)  A living theory approach to teaching in higher education, Educational Action Research, 19: 4, 567-578.

Walton, J. (2011)  A Collaborative Inquiry: “How do we improve our practice with children?” Educational Action Research, 19:3, 297-311.

Walton, J.  (2011)  How do we, individually and collectively, integrate research and practice to improve the wellbeing of children?   Action Learning, Action Research Journal,  17:1, 65-91.

Walton, J.  (2010) Integrating research and practice to improve the well-being of children,  Assessment and Development Matters,  British Psychological Society: Vol 2, No.2.

Walton, J. (2009) Promoting Good Quality Care through Teamwork and Effective Leadership, National Children’s Bureau.

Professional Activity

I have supervised Masters students, including supervision and assessment of final dissertations; and been Primary Supervisor for both PhD and EdD students. I have been primary supervisor for one doctoral student from her initial induction through to the successful award of her Doctor of Education, including supporting the writing of her research proposal, and her confirmation of status viva. 

I currently supervise 7 PhD students, all of whom are researching their own professional practice.  In theorising their practice, they are making an original contribution to knowledge that is of practical value to other professionals, and has social and political significance. The students meet as a group for three weekends in the year, providing them with the opportunity to share and discuss their research activities.     

I have externally examined four doctoral theses; and have also been external examiner in a transfer from MPhil to PhD 2013.    

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